My son and his family found lots of amphibian activity the end of last week on a rainy night walk. When frogs and salamanders decide to look for their breeding ponds, they usually pick a warm, rainy night to their liking and head for the nearest breeding ponds. A beautiful wood frog appeared along the path they were on and also two different types of salamanders.
Spotted salamanders are black, and their robust backs are generously covered with bright yellow spots. Actually, they have two rows of yellow or orange dots from head to tail. You usually see them in wet woods on upland and lowland terrain. They like to lay their eggs in vernal pools or small fishless ponds. The globular egg masses laid by the females contain about 100 eggs. Don’t ever be tempted to bring them home to watch them develop. This almost always results in their death. Enjoy seeing them where you find them and keep going back to watch their development.
The hikers that night also found a dusky salamander. These salamanders seem to prefer slow streams with muddy bottoms and are sometimes found on land in wet places. These salamanders are active throughout the winter and may even change from the gilled larval to the adult stage during the winter months. Quite often when you find one and want to capture it for a closer look, it will leap into the water and try to disappear. Dusky salamanders are active at night upon the surface; they usually hide during the day. My son and his family were lucky to see it.
The wood frog they found is commonly heard in the spring; it is usually the first amphibian to call its ducklike sound. When they get going in a wet area, it certainly does sound like ducks quacking. Listen for them especially on any warm rainy night now. Even the presence of snow and a little ice here and there does not stop them getting into the mating spirit. As the weather gets warmer and it rains, the chorus will swell.
On this island, the six different types of frogs to look for are spring peepers, gray tree frogs, bull frogs, green frogs, pickerel frogs and wood frogs.
The salamanders to watch for are spotted salamanders, red-spotted newts, dusky salamanders, red-backed salamanders, four-toed salamanders and two-lined salamanders. There are excellent guide books for these creatures, and you can see them all online if you look them up for identification. It is an exciting time of year for seeing amphibians.
Two hooded mergansers were seen this week; they are not really common now but are a possibility. There are little windows of opportunity to see them throughout the year, and another is late summer into fall. There are records of them having bred in Ellsworth and here on this island at Breakneck Pond and near Echo Lake. This beautiful duck nests in a hole in a tree or a wood duck-type box put up for it.
Hooded mergansers are fish-eating ducks. They more normally nest farther to the north. They have a black-and-white head with a fan-shaped white crest, which they often spread. This makes the duck very beautiful to see. The breast is white with two black bars in front of the wing. The wings have a white patch, and the flanks are brownish.
Wood ducks are found on my pond once again. Each spring, I watch for them to arrive. They are very secretive and often hard to see. Their preferred nesting spots are small, very quiet and secluded ponds.
We once lived in Westchester County, N.Y., on a sizable piece of property that had a small pond and wet area. The wood ducks in the area liked the pond and came in just before dark to settle down for the night. It was a glorious arrival, not noisy but a great whirring of wings as they flew in, landed and quieted down for the night. The area is still home to wood ducks and wildlife, for we left it to The Nature Conservancy when we moved to this island. Our gift area is called the “Mildred E. Grierson Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary.” Our neighbors liked the idea, and several added land to it so the preserved areas now cover many acres. The adjacent tract is called the “Marian Yarrow Sanctuary” and is a nice place to walk and explore near Katonah, N.Y.
Be sure now to get out and look at the beautiful skunk cabbage plants. They are a gorgeous deep maroon color. The actual flower is enclosed in a hooded spathe, but the spathe itself is a gorgeous color. Inside, the flower appears as a small, yellow, globular blossom called a “spadix” that reminds me of a tiny orange stuck with cloves. We often think of skunk cabbage as a smelly plant when the leaves are big and green, and they do smell when crushed. The skunk cabbage now though is very beautiful. Don’t miss it in the island wet places.